South Korea will demand fingerprints from all adult foreign visitors by 2012 to tighten immigration controls and prevent criminals entering the country, officials said Tuesday.
The justice ministry said a bill to be submitted to parliament next month requires foreigners aged over 17 to provide prints of their index fingers and an identity photograph upon entry.
Those intending to stay more than three months must provide full fingerprints in addition to the photo.
. . .
Crimes by foreigners rose nearly fivefold over the past eight years from 4,328 in 2001 to 20,624 last year, JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported Tuesday, quoting national police data.
But tourism officials expressed concern about a negative impact on their industry.
"It will undoubtedly dent our efforts to attract even one more single foreign tourist here and to boost our tourism industry," an official of the Korea National Tourism Organisation told AFP, declining to be named.
Seoul has declared 2010-2012 "Visit Korea" years, seeking to attract 10 million foreign tourists a year and earn 10 billion dollars in foreign currency in the first year.
The Joongang Ilbo now has the first English-language story on this from the local papers, though it’s very poorly written:
Korea scrapped the system in 2004, as then-Justice Minister Kang Kum-sill accepted claims from human rights groups that the fingerprinting system is akin to “treating foreigners as potential criminals.”
Following the legal change, only those foreigners under criminal investigation have been forced to offer fingerprints.
The ministry has developed detailed guidelines for the revision. Foreigners aged 17 or older would have their photos taken and provide fingerprints. Those foreigners entering Korea for residence of three months or longer would offer 10 fingerprints. Exception will apply to diplomats and foreign government officials.
“Introducing foreigners’ biological information into a database again is urgently needed to prevent illegal entry, ban entry of criminals and terrorists and to tackle escalating crime by foreigners,” said Lee Bok-nam, a mid-level official with immigration review department of the ministry.
I first wrote on this issue in December, when the Korea Times had a story that said it’d be in effect by 2010, though the news I saw this morning said 2012. The Joongang Ilbo doesn't give a date. From the KT in December:
The Ministry of Justice said Saturday that it will propose to revise the Immigration Law so that all foreign nationals, either for short-term stay or long-term, are obliged to provide their biometric information to the Korean authorities when they come to the country. It will submit the revision bill to the National Assembly in the second half of next year, and the new regulation, if passed, will take effect as early as 2010.
Up to 2003, Korean immigration officials used to fingerprint long-term foreign residents who were to stay here for a year or more when giving them alien registration numbers. But the Roh Moo-hyun administration scrapped the biometric data collection, following criticism that it could infringe on human rights, said a ministry official.
I believed then, and I still do now, that there’s no problem with doing this. After all, South Korea keeps track of its Korean citizens, and countries like the United States and Japan also fingerprint foreigners.
I don’t really like the emphasis on foreigner crime in the Joongang Ilbo article, though. The second paragraph:
The measure would be a revival of a system that was scrapped five years ago. It is expected to spark controversy. The ministry said there was an increasing need for the fingerprinting system as criminal cases involving foreigners have increased.
And a bit later:
"Introducing foreigners’ biological information into a database again is urgently needed to prevent illegal entry, ban entry of criminals and terrorists and to tackle escalating crime by foreigners,” said Lee Bok-nam, a mid-level official with immigration review department of the ministry.
As of August this year, the number of expatriates surpassed 1.1 million. But the crimes by foreigners surged from 4,328 in 2001 to 20,624 last year. In the first eight months of this year, the figure stood at 15,533, according to the National Police Agency.
Indeed, foreigner crime is increasing. Because the number of foreigners in Korea is growing. Nevertheless, one foreign criminal is one too many, and it's a sick testament to South Korea's new-found development that illegal immigrants and criminals have their eye on it.
However, there is some question about the constitutionality. The article explains one trade union is opposed to the measure because it runs counter to the “presumption of innocence” ensured by the Constitution.
“Collecting physical information from foreigners could incur protests from the international community,” the association said.
Give the post from December a read, because I also included some links on the relatively new fingerprinting policy in Japan, which met with some opposition among foreigners there. Looks like a big objection was that it might take a long time. That’s what people told the New York Times:
Some of the most vocal critics have been among foreign business leaders, who say the screening could hurt Japan’s standing as an Asian business center, especially if it is inefficiently carried out, leading to long waits at airports. Business groups here warn that such delays could make Japan less attractive than rival commercial hubs like Hong Kong and Singapore, where entry procedures are much easier.
The business groups also contend that the screening runs counter to recent efforts by the government to attract more foreign investment and tourism.
“If businessmen based here have to line up for two hours every time they come back from traveling, it will be a disaster,” said Jakob Edberg, policy director in the Tokyo office of the European Business Council. “This will affect real business decisions, like whether to base here.”
And that’s what former Korea Times columnist Mike Weisbart told his old paper last year:
Mike Weisbart, who has stayed here since 1995, said, ``My fingerprints have been on file at the immigration office since 1995 and I have no problems with that. But for short-term visitors, I'm not sure why they need it and, if the system is annoying or invasive, it might run counter to the government's plan to attract more tourists.''
He said that he basically believes that it is the right of the country to demand visitors give the information if they want to come here. But he said it could have an adverse impact on the government's plan to attract more incoming tourists. ``If the system is poor and is inconvenient for visitors, they will go back to their country and speak poorly of Korea,'' Weisbart said.
The article's penultimate paragraph is a quotation from a Korean man who had studied overseas for five years:
“I hated the feeling of being discriminated for simply being a foreigner in other countries,” he said. “I hope foreigners won’t get the same feeling here.”
I was going to make a snide remark like "well, us teachers are used to it," but I simply have to question when and where Lee was discriminated against when his fingerprints are requested. If it were only foreigners being fingerprinted, or only a specific visa class of foreigners being fingerprinted, then we could talk about discrimination.